Jerren Gan - Authorjerren.email@example.com
Benjamin Javitz - Photographerbenjamin.firstname.lastname@example.org
On 7 May, The English Theater Impro Club (ET) put up an amazing show at Nya Matsalen. Only the second English Spex, “They Will, Won’t They” brought the audience together to the 1960s to witness (and dictate) the lives of the Spinners. What happened at the Spex? What was the best moment of the spex? And was it every bit enjoyable?
A little past 19:00, a bustling crowd settled down as the lights in Nya Matsalen, Nymble, dimmed and the actors of the English Theater Improvisation Club took the stage. With the help of THS MAIN and the Head of THS International, ET put together their second-ever English spex — “They Will, Won’t They”.
But first, what is a spex? A Swedish student tradition, a spex (short for “spektakel”) is a form of comedy and improv theatre put up by university students and set in the past. With a combination of song, dance, and rhymes mixed into a traditional drama, a spex is made even more chaotic by the welcoming of audience participation — and not the kind where the actors on stage ask the audience to ‘raise their hands’ either. In a spex, the audience is encouraged to shout loudly at the stage with requests. One could ask the actors to “swap roles”, “do it again”, or “come back on stage” after they had exited, act as if “the floor was lava”, and even suggest a different plot point from what was originally planned. No matter the request, as long as the people on stage can hear it, they will do their best to follow, creating some absolutely hilarious scenes.
In the play, we are first introduced to the Spinner family: Uncle Harold (played by Albert Buenos), a ‘dying’ Scottish businessman who suffers from the weirdest of illnesses — Grasshopper flu and Macrobalanosis, Vanessa (Arianne Östlund), Harold’s sister and mother to siblings Jane (Lea Kablitz), and Michael (Marco Amerotti). As Jane and Michael entered the stage, the audience was also treated to an amazing scene of song and dance as they began to sing the very first song of the spex. Slowly, as the scene develops, we start to understand the characters and their relationship better. Vanessa seems to show favoritism to Michael, Michael and Jane do not get along well and everyone seems to be constantly fighting for Harold’s attention.
A change of scene later, the audience is introduced to another key character: Liz (Anna-Sophie Knorr), Michael’s girlfriend. Despite Liz’s prompting, Michael seemed to have completely forgotten about their plans to meet Uncle Harold. As the audience began to feel more comfortable, the number of audience prompts rose sharply, telling Michael that he “loves the red shirt” but he is “simply pretending because he doesn’t actually love the red shirt” before doing another complete 180 to suggest that he “now loves the red shirt”. In the next scene, as the key plot of the play is revealed — Harold believes that he is dying because he remains sick despite trying everything (tea, coffee, and sniffing pure caffeine), the number of audience instructions piled up, creating hilarious scenes (like when Harold almost tilted the entire table over after being instructed to sit on the table). Before the scene ends, Harold tries to write his will and finally falls asleep before he actually manages.
As it turns out, Harold announces to the family that he will be donating all his assets to charity, prompting an outcry from the family. With rhymes from Harold, a rap battle between Liz and Jane, and a song shared by Michael and Vanessa, love and grudges are now in full bloom between the characters. Vanessa and Liz believe that Harold should keep his assets within the family. Michael is convinced by his mum to propose to Liz. And Jane fights Vanessa, arguing that she feels left out and that no one actually loves her. Right before Act 1 ends, the audience was also introduced to the final character of the play: James (Mark Van Der Keijl), Jane’s Scottish classmate. Desperate for some love, Jane writes to him and invites him to come over and date her.
“Can’t you see I'm losing my mind
Can’t you be more kind”
- Harold coming up with improvised rhymes
After a short intermission, Act 2 began and the comedy went straight into full swing. A nervous Michael proposes to Liz and gets an excited ‘YES’ for an answer (of course, given that it was a spex, with the roles swapped). Jane and James meet and 'built a chair' while making suspicious noises off-stage. With a great cast (and audience), many recurring jokes were created on the fly — Michael’s love for the cookies allows him to eat them non-stop in every scene. James falls in love with the chair he makes. We find out that James and Michael had an affair in college (referred to as “sword-fighting” and “playing chess”). And together, Harold and James act out scenes from numerous animes (and The Lion King), interspersing their lines with patriotic cries of “FOR SCOTLAND”.
But it was not all hilarity and mindless humor. As the play developed, Jane betrays her brother and frames Liz and James for having an affair. Tears are shed and it almost seems as though the play would end on a tragic note. Luckily for us, relationships were mended and we were greeted with a touching scene of Vanessa, Jane, and Michael hugging and forgiving each other. At the same time, Harold declares to have gotten better and raises a toast “to the Scottish mafia and Brexit” before the play closes with James and Harold leaving for Scotland together.
And applause! After nearly 3 hours of laughter and absurd prompts, the second English spex came to an end. The proud members of ET took to the stage and were greeted with thunderous applause. Everyone was smiling — cast members, supporting staff, and the audience all had fun being part of the experience.
After the show, OL interviewed 2 members of ET: Mar (part of directing team, group leader for the costume and makeup team, scenery team, and event manager) and Jonathan (part of SCoMp (scenery, costumes, and makeup) team and event manager), both of whom were backstage during the show. When asked how they thought the show went, they shared with us: “We think the show was a success. The feedback from the audience was extremely positive and we feel like all the work we put in paid off. There were some moments that didn't work as planned, but the actors always made the best of it.”. They added that “There were a lot of enjoyable moments during the preparation, from picking up the costumes, reading the script altogether and laughing, composing and rehearsing the music, late meetings, and many dinners together, but definitely seeing it all come together during the show and the general rehearsals was the highlight. Overall the show was really fun to plan, play and watch. We were very lucky to have such a great audience as well that challenged us with so many funny prompts.”.
Of course, with such a successful show, we also had to find out if there were other spex or events that we could look forward to. However, they replied that “Unfortunately this year, we cannot rerun this show, but the wheels are already moving for next year. You can follow us on Instagram where we update you on all of our events (@ths.et.impro). We also run impro sessions where everyone is welcome to try out, laugh a lot and maybe become part of our next shows. For these sessions, we announce them on Instagram as well or you can join our interest mail list by filling up our Google form!”.